Star Shells from Kim Beattie’s And You!

           Star Shells

The star shells, like the souls of men,
     Are gleaming through the gloom,
A lovely radiance shudd'ring up
     Above a foul, grim tomb,
To hang in brooding brightness till
     The fall brings black of doom.

The Watcher for the Judgment Day
     In million drops of white;
A sparkling splendour in the sky,
     A brilliant loop of light --
And murder's in yon rifle spurt
     That stabs the aching night!

The slinking shadows stretch and race
     A-down the writhing floors,
As up the jet walls of the night
     The silver seeker soars,
And hovers, while the far guns roll
     Like threat from Heaven's shores!

The peering sentries strain with eyes
     That rim the sandbag tops;
The toiler stays his hand and stills
     And quakes and all life stops,
Till back the shadows shrink and merge --
     And blacker blackness drops!

                 --Kim Beattie

From And You!  Toronto: MacMillan, 1929.  Page 35.

“In million drops of white”: star shells contained a magnesium flare attached to a parachute; as magnesium burns it spits out lines of light, rather like a child’s Hallowe’en sparkler.

A Star Shell exhibited 1916 by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson 1889-1946

A Star Shell (1916) by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson 1889-1946. At the Tate Gallery.

Because of the harsh light thrown out by a star shell, even at a distance a man’s silhouette or any trace of movement becomes suddenly visible to the enemy.  If caught in the open when one lights off, you flatten out and stay still until they burn out, and you once again have the cover of darkness.


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